Beaufort News

School district, county council discuss 2011-12 education budget

  • Beaufort County School District leaders made their case for a general-fund budget they believe is needed to sustain academic progress in public schools to members of County Council on Thursday.
  • The discussion at the council's Finance Committee meeting officially opened the annual discussions between the two groups. Those talks take place before council approves the district budget in June and sets the tax rate to fund it in August.

    District leaders presented a snapshot of academic achievements, a brief history of financial challenges and enrollment data. Board chairman Fred Washington Jr. encouraged council members to view investing in public schools as an economic development tool.

    "We believe firmly that a good education system leads to a good economic climate," he said.

    Phyllis White, the district's operational services chief, presented the $175-million budget the school board has tentatively approved for 2011-12. It is the same amount as the current year's spending plan.

    White cautioned the budget could change as more information about state funding and requirements becomes available. For instance, the legislature has not yet decided if it will exempt school districts from paying the annual raises teachers receive for additional years of experience and degrees earned. Paying the raises would cost the district more than $1 million next year, she said.

    The budget includes about $5 million in cuts to offset rising costs, but the school board says it still needs to raise taxes by 3 percent on nonresident homes and commercial and personal property. State law exempts resident homeowners from property taxes to fund school operations.

    The district anticipates it will draw more than $6 million from its savings this year to make up for low tax collections. A tax rate that didn't generate enough money this year probably won't fund an equal budget next year.

    "It's a pretty dismal outlook," White said.

    Stu Rodman, chairman of the Finance Committee, commended school board members for taking steps to cut costs. But, he then asked district officials to provide a spending plan that would not raise taxes so members could gauge the impact that could have on the quality of education in local schools.

    Council members could then compare the proposed budget that includes the tax increase with one that keeps the rate flat, he said.

    "Having those two pieces in front of us is perhaps the majority of what we need as we move through this process," he said.

    County Council plans to hold a first reading of the budget -- in title only -- on Monday. The district will hold a public meeting to give information about its budget at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Beaufort High School.